It was embarrassing from Watford, who seemed to be working under the misconception that they were heading towards the middle of the table. They put West Ham in the driver’s seat from the start and with only six minutes left on the clock when Antonio delivered the final example of his improved finish, collecting a Pablo Fornals flick before pulling low and hard in front of Ben Foster for his seventh goal since the resumption of the season.
You might have expected Watford to pay close attention to Antonio given that no one in the division has scored more than the striker since the lockout. But it gave them too much credit. Either way, Watford was unaware of the threat from a player who put four at Norwich last weekend and they were just as sleepy when Jarrod Bowen cut inside from the right in the 10th minute and passed for Soucek, who got up without question to go home.
If only someone had told Watford that Soucek had already established himself as one of the most dangerous players in the air in the league. Yet no one in yellow resisted. They just stood up, watched and allowed the Czech midfielder to claim his third goal since joining West Ham in January.
Pearson was annoyed at the lack of organization on his soft side. There were flickers from Watford, which nearly pulled one out when Lukasz Fabianski made a smart stop to deny Ismaïla Sarr, but West Ham was in charge. The hosts weren’t in the mood to release their grip and they cleared nine minutes before half-time, Rice leading inside before sending a vicious long-distance workout past flat-footed Foster for his first. goal of the season.
Watford was taken out early for the second half and Adrian Mariappa replaced Adam Masina, who paid for his failure to deal with Bowen’s threat to West Ham’s right. No doubt Pearson had torn his players in the locker room and Watford was moving, threatening when Christian Kabasele was heading wide.
West Ham stepped back, encouraging Watford to probe. After 49 minutes, Abdoulaye Doucouré passed Ben Johnson, a 20-year-old right-back starting for the first time since his debut in February 2019, before beating Angelo Ogbonna. The midfielder’s shot returned from the post and fell to Troy Deeney, who finished firmly.
The Watford players roared, masquerading as a Sunday League team shaking a hangover. Nerves took hold of West Ham, who was in retirement. They made mistakes and sang cheap goods, giving Watford hope. The odds appeared and West Ham needed their center-backs Issa Diop and Ogbonna to ward off many inviting crosses.
Still, West Ham, led by Mark Noble in his 500th appearance at the club, has stabilized. There was no way to return to Watford.